The curious incident of the text messages at midnight

Mobile phone users have been complaining that text messages sent by friends and family based in Europe on New Years' eve have taken up to 5 days to make the 17,000 kilometre journey.The use of text messages, which are up to 160 characters long and usually arrive within seconds, has exploded over the past few years.

Mobile phone users have been complaining that text messages sent by friends and family based in Europe on New Years' eve have taken up to 5 days to make the 17,000 kilometre journey.

The use of text messages, which are up to 160 characters long and usually arrive within seconds, has exploded over the past few years. Optus said, during the New Year celebrations, almost 16 million text messages were sent from its network while Telstra said it expected around 22 million to be sent over the same period.

However, neither of the companies could explain why replies from Europe, which is the most popular international destination for text messages during the holiday season, were taking anywhere from 2 to 5 days to reach their final destination.

Kirsty Potter, a student from Scotland who is connected to the Virgin network, is a typical example. According to Potter, she sent a number of text messages home on New Years' eve but did not receive any replies until Wednesday January 5, even though the return messages were sent at around 3am on New Year's day -- Sydney time.

"I got the first reply on Wednesday (January 5) and have got more over the next few days. One of my friends, who is on Vodafone, got 7 messages in one go on Thursday -- and they were all sent on New Years' day," said Potter.

Warren Chaisatien, research manager for wireless and mobility at analyst firm International Data Corp, said users expect a small delay during busy periods -- such as Christmas and New Years' -- but he finds a delay of a few days "extraordinary".

"One of the reasons why SMS took off in the first place is because it is immediate, spontaneous and also very personal. The implication is that SMS loses its primary functionality -- the immediacy," said Chaisatien.

However, mobile phone operators say that although the Christmas and New Year period is the busiest of the year, their networks were only experiencing delays of a "few minutes" and could not explain exactly why international texts may have taken so long.

According to a spokesperson from Telstra, its customers may have experienced a delay of up to 3 minutes when sending text messages within Australia but the company said any delays on the international network were out of its control.

"We upgrade our network by putting in extra base station cells around the busiest places in Australia - not just Sydney. We do that to cope with the extra load and even so we had delays of up to 3 minutes," the spokesperson said.

Optus also admitted its customers may have experienced delays when sending text and picture messages during the new year celebrations but the company denies that the delay was more then a few minutes.

"There was some congestion at midnight on New Years' eve -- that was the busiest time. But it certainly wasn't a couple of days; the largest delay was only a few minutes," the Optus spokesperson said.

According to Optus, any delay was due to international network operators not preparing their systems for a surge in SMS traffic.

"If it is from overseas, we are relying on networks that we don't own. If the text messages are coming from the UK then we rely on the UK network and it would be an issue for them," the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from Vodafone agreed, stating that there were some delays on the Australian networks but nothing more than a few minutes.

"There is so much interoperability between the carriers so it makes it difficult to work out exactly where the delays occurred. This is an incredibly busy time of year and if there were delays they occurred before the messages got into Australia," the Vodafone spokesperson said.

Have you experienced delays in sending or receiving text messages over the holiday period? Tell us about it by using the talkback below or e-mail the edit team.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All